Courses of Study 2023-2024 
    May 23, 2024  
Courses of Study 2023-2024


In the College of Arts and Sciences .

Course Offerings  

The Department of Anthropology at Cornell University is one of the leading institutions for the study of humanity and our surroundings from the remote past to the impending future. We offer courses of study at the undergraduate level that help train students in the arts of global citizenship by cultivating both an intellectual understanding of human social life and the practical skills vital to navigating a culturally complex world. Anthropology’s commitment to the marriage of theoretical reflection and empirical fieldwork make it an ideal discipline for students interested in engaged learning and research. 

The department is committed to exploring social and cultural life through methods and scholarly traditions that range from archaeology to ethnography to human biology. Our curriculum supports student interests in health and medicine, business and economy, law and politics, environment, activism and social justice, and heritage. The Anthropology major and minor prepare students for a wide range of careers, including law, medicine, foreign service, environmental advocacy, human rights, community service, education, international development, and business.

Anthropology welcomes nonmajors into its courses. Unless explicitly stated, 2000- and 3000-level courses do not have formal prerequisites and students without prior experience in anthropology are welcome. 



N. Russell, chair; S. Villenas, director of undergraduate studies; A. Nading, director of graduate studies; C. Ahmann, A. Bize, J. Boyarin, A. Clark Arcadi, M. Fiskesjö, F. Gleach, J. Henderson, S. Hodžić, K. Jordan, S. Langwick, V. Munasinghe, P. Nadasdy, N. Raheja, L. Ramberg, V. Santiago-Irizarry, A. T. Smith, N. Tamarkin, Y. Tsuji, M. Velasco, M. Welker, A. Willford. Emeritus: J. Fajans, D. Greenwood, D. Holmberg, K. March, J. Siegel, S. Sangren, M. Small

The Major

The major is structured to provide both general grounding in three subfields of anthropology (sociocultural anthropology, anthropological archaeology, and biological anthropology, see below) and to support a student’s particular area of interest of focus. Additional topics ranging from identity politics and globalization to prehistory and human evolution can be pursued in classes focused on every major geographical region in the world. Upper-level courses span a range of topical and theoretical issues related to religion, gender, economics, colonialism, democratization, prehistoric cultures, race, behavioral evolution, and conservation, to name a few.

Sociocultural Anthropology: Sociocultural anthropology is rooted in the precise observation and rigorous analysis of human cultural capacities and human social practices, relations, and institutions. All sociocultural anthropology involves both inquiry into the diversity of human cultures (ethnography) and comparative analysis of human social dynamics (social theory). Historically, sociocultural anthropology specialized in the study of nonwestern peoples, but today there are few places and domains of human activity that sociocultural anthropologists do not study. To give a few examples, sociocultural anthropologists study nuclear weapons scientists in California, the transformation of state power in Russia, and the politics of development in India. They study how television producers in Egypt contribute to nationalism, the social effects of truth commissions in Guatemala and South Africa, and the emergence of new religious and social movements in Latin America. What distinguishes sociocultural anthropology as a field is its engagement with the full abundance of human lived experience and its integrated, comparative effort to make sense of the key processes shaping this experience. As such, sociocultural anthropology is an excellent, flexible choice of major. It teaches core critical, analytical, and expressive skills and important perspectives on human cultural creativity and social life that are widely applicable. Recently, our majors have gone into careers as diverse as academic scholarship, activism, advertising, consulting, design, education, film, journalism, marketing, medicine, NGO-work, and politics and government.

Anthropological Archaeology: Anthropological archaeology studies the diverse societies of the past using the material traces they left behind in the archaeological record. In addition to studying artifacts, archaeologists use unique methods to study the settings in which artifacts were produced and used by examining regional settlement patterns, the structure of sites and communities, the organization of activities, and ancient symbolism and social relations. The concerns of anthropological archaeology range from basic questions about continuity and change in the past, to application of hard science methods to date sites and determine the sources of artifacts, criticism of the uses to which the past is put in contemporary society, and protection of the archaeological record. Anthropological archaeology can be distinguished from other forms of archaeology (such as Classical or Art Historical archaeology) based on its emphasis on holistically studying past cultural systems, and by the theories and approaches it shares with sociocultural and biological anthropology. There are numerous career opportunities for anthropological archaeologists, including work with museums, government agencies, and historic preservation groups in addition to academic employment. Private companies engaged in federally mandated cultural resource management (or CRM) archaeology employ thousands of archaeologists in the United States, and similar management programs exist in many other countries.

Biological Anthropology: Biological anthropology is the subfield of anthropology that explores the physical diversity, evolutionary history, and behavioral potential of our species. Consistent with anthropology more generally, biological anthropology is concerned with human variation. The distinctive perspective of this subfield is that it examines human variation within the framework of evolutionary theory. Analyses of both biology and culture, and of the interaction between the two, mark the broad boundaries of this discipline. Within that wide scope, specific areas of inquiry are diverse, including fossil studies, primate behavior, nutrition and development, sexual behavior, parental investment, molecular and population genetics, adaptation to environmental stress, disease evolution, life history analysis, and more. Some of the most pressing social issues of our time fall within the domain of biological anthropology as well as a range of professions: the controversy over evolution and intelligent design; race, gender, and genetic determinism; the control of disease; the roots of aggression; and conservation and the role of humans in ecological systems. Although the number of anthropology courses offered in this subfield are limited, students can pursue their interests through a variety of related courses in other departments and by constructing independent study courses with specific faculty members.

Note: In addition to the major requirements outlined below, all students must meet the college graduation requirements .


No prerequisites are required to enter the anthropology major. Students should see the Director of Undergraduate Studies to apply to the major and obtain an advisor. Majors prepare a short statement about their interests and goals for the major, and then meet with their advisor. Majors and advisors collaboratively build a program of study that reflects the student’s individual interests and the intellectual breadth of the field. Our goal is to provide a close and supportive advising relationship and a strong and coherent structure for the student’s major.

A minimum of ten courses are necessary to complete the major. To complete the major, students must take:

  • One course of 3 or more credits in each of the three subfields (sociocultural, archaeological, biological) from the list below.

Sociocultural - ANTHR 1400 , ANTHR 2400 ANTHR 2421 , ANTHR 2468  

Archaeological - ANTHR 1200 ANTHR 2245 , ANTHR 2430 , ANTHR 2729  

Biological - ANTHR 1300 , ANTHR 2310  

  • ANTHR 3000 - Introduction to Anthropological Theory  
  • Two other courses of at least 3 credits at the 3000-level.
  • Two 4000-level courses of at least 3 credits each, one of which must be a seminar course in your senior year with a research paper or project component (ANTHR 4263  is not a seminar course and does not fill the requirement).
  • An additional two elective courses of at least 3 credits each, which may be in cognate disciplines with the approval of your advisor.
  • Transfer credits may apply to the major by application to the DUS.

Exceptions to these requirements may be granted if a written petition is approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

No S–U credits or First-Year Writing Seminars may count toward the major. A letter grade of C– or better is required in all courses counted toward the major.


Honors in anthropology are awarded for excellence in the major, which includes overall GPA and completion of an honors thesis. Undergraduate students interested in working for an honors degree should apply to the chair of the Honors Committee in the second semester of their junior year (requests for late admission may be considered, but not later than the second week of the first semester of the senior year). It is the student’s responsibility to identify an appropriate topic for a thesis and to find a faculty member willing to sponsor and supervise the research; the advisor and at least the general subject of the thesis must be identified at the time of application for admission to the Honors Program. Note that clearance from the University Committee on Human Subjects usually is required before research involving living people may begin; students contemplating such research should begin to work with their thesis advisors to design their investigations and obtain the clearance well in advance of the date when the involvement with research subjects is to begin.

Admission to the Honors Program requires an overall GPA of 3.3 or greater and a 3.5 GPA in the major. In addition, the student should have no outstanding incompletes in courses that will be used toward the major (provisional admission with incompletes is possible at the discretion of the chair of the Honors Committee on evidence that a good faith effort to finish them is under way). Under special circumstances, a student with an overall GPA of 3.0 may petition for admittance to the program.

Writing an honors thesis typically is a two-semester project involving 8 credits of course work; most students do this work during their senior year. During their first semester of honors work, students typically register for (1) ANTHR 4983 - Honors Thesis Research  (3 credits); and (2) ANTHR 4991 - Honors Workshop I  (1 credit). During their second semester of honors work, students typically register for (1) ANTHR 4984 - Honors Thesis Write-Up  (2 credits); and (2) ANTHR 4992 - Honors Workshop II  (2 credits). The two-course/term arrangement reflects the division of supervision over the thesis between the thesis advisor and the chair of the Honors Committee. The thesis advisor is ultimately responsible for guiding the scholarly development of the thesis; the chair of the Honors Committee is mainly responsible for assuring timely progress toward completion of the thesis, and providing a context for students in the Honors Program to share ideas (both editorial and substantive) as their theses progress.

The department is pleased to offer the Freedman Award for Undergraduate Research in Anthropology. The award is designed to support undergraduate majors wishing to undertake anthropological research either independently or in collaboration with an existing program of ethnographic or archaeological research. Our first priority is to support students who propose to collect original data in preparation for writing honors theses, but proposals for non-thesis oriented research are also welcome. Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Study for more information.

The Anthropology Minor

The Department offers a Minor in Anthropology to undergraduate students in any college at Cornell. The Anthropology Minor is designed for students who want to engage with sociocultural anthropology, archaeological anthropology, or biological anthropology but cannot commit to a full academic major. No specific advisor is required; all departmental faculty are available to discuss students’ plans for completing the Minor. Students can apply for the Minor at any time before the March 31st prior to their graduation. To be certified for the Minor, a student must submit a copy of their transcript and a completed Minor Course Plan form to the Director of Undergraduate Studies by the deadline.
Specific criteria for the minor are:

  • Completion of five Anthropology courses, worth 3 credits or more.
  • One of the five courses must be taken at the 1000- or 2000- level. (FWS do not count)
  • Of the four additional courses, one must be at the 3000 level, and one must be a seminar at the 4000 level.
  • No S/U classes will be accepted; all classes must be taken for a letter grade.
  • Students must achieve a C- or better in all five courses taken to fulfill the minor.
  • One of the courses for the minor may be taken as transfer credit and one may be taken through study abroad. A minimum of three of the five required courses must be taken at Cornell.

The Public Service Studies Minor

The Department offers a Minor in Public Service Studies to undergraduate students in any college at Cornell. The Public Service Studies Minor provides students with intellectual frameworks for developing and sustaining commitments to community engagement and global citizenship. Students gain critical thinking tools for reflecting about and promoting social change. No specific advisor is required; all departmental faculty are available to discuss students’ plans for completing the Minor. Students are required to complete 160 hours of an engaged/service learning experience set within a pre-agreed framework for reporting, reflection, and assessment. For this reason, students are advised to begin planning for the minor with a faculty member no later than the end of Fall semester of their junior year. Students are also required to take the Capstone Course for Public Service Studies in the spring semester before their graduation. It is recommended that students apply for the minor before they take the capstone course but no later than March 31st prior to their graduation. To be certified for the Minor, a student must submit a completed Minor Form and transcript to the Director of Undergraduate Studies by this date.

Specific criteria for the minor are:

  • Five courses plus 160 hours of engaged/service learning experience that is set within a pre-agreed framework for reporting, reflection, and assessment. Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the framework document.
  • ANTHR 1900 - [Global Engagements: Living and Working in a Diverse World] . (3 credits)
  • Capstone course for Public Service Studies. (1 credit)
  • One Anthropology course at the 2000 level or above of at least 3 credits in an area relevant to your focus (development, migration, cultural diversity, etc.).
  • Three electives of at least 3 credits each drawn from the interdisciplinary list of approved courses that feature public service/community engagement components and courses that provide skills, concepts, and knowledge critical to understanding public service, engagement, and social justice. Students may also use one area studies course relevant to their engaged/service learning experience to contribute to the elective credit requirement. (6-7 credits)
  • No S/U classes will be accepted; all classes must be taken for a letter grade.
  • Students must achieve a C- or better in all courses taken to fulfill the minor.
  • One of the courses for the minor may be taken as transfer credit and one may be taken through study abroad. A minimum of three of the five required courses must be taken at Cornell.

Special Programs and Facilities

First-year Writing Seminars: The department offers first-year writing seminars on a wide range of anthropological topics. Consult the John S. Knight Institute for times, instructors, and descriptions.

Independent Study: Specialized individual study programs are offered in ANTHR 4910 - Independent Study: Undergrad I , a course open to a limited number of juniors and seniors who have obtained permission and supervision of a faculty member. Undergraduates should note that many graduate level courses are open to them by permission of the instructor.

Global Engaged Learning Opportunities: The Department of Anthropology encourages students to consider a semester of study abroad or off-campus study as an integral part of the student’s major concentration. The Director of Undergraduate Studies serves as the anthropology study abroad advisor.

Nilgiris Field Learning Center:  The Nilgiris Field Learning Center is a partnership between Cornell University and the Keystone Foundation, India. The NFLC is based in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, which is located in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve of the Western Ghats. The partnership is an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort that explores questions of sustainable environments and livelihoods. Three areas of focus are emerging:

  • impacts of biodiversity on nutrition and traditional medicine systems
  • effects of urbanization on biodiversity in the reserve
  • systems of governance for effective implementation of conservation, sustainable environments, and livelihood generation

For more information, visit the Nilgiris website.

The Global Health Program: The Cornell University Global Health Program offers a minor in global health.  This program is intended to compliment any academic major at the University and provide students with basic knowledge about global health, as well as the necessary skills and experience to build their own unique global health career.  For more information, visit the Global Health website.

Other anthropologically-relevant study abroad options, using existing Cornell Abroad and off-campus options, can be worked out in consultation with the major advisor and Cornell Abroad.

Collections: The department has an extensive collection of archaeological and ethnological materials housed in the Anthropology Collections. A limited number of students can make arrangements to serve as interns in the Anthropology Collections. Olin Library houses some of the most extensive collections of materials on the ethnology of Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Latin America to be found anywhere in the United States. The biological anthropology laboratory (B65 McGraw Hall) houses an extensive collection of materials for teaching purposes, including (1) human skeletal remains, (2) articulated skeletons and cranial casts of primates, and (3) casts of important fossils in the human lineage.

Colloquia: The Department of Anthropology holds colloquia on Fridays at 3:00 p.m. Faculty members from Cornell and other universities participate in discussions of current research and problems in anthropology. Students are encouraged to attend.

For more complete information about the anthropology major, see the Director of Undergraduate Studies or visit the Department of Anthropology web page: